New Year, New Friends – LEGO Friends Magazine, January 2023

The time “between the years” is surprisingly busy this year, with many of the LEGO-related magazines having slipped their publishing dates to this slot, so there’s going to be quite a bit to do for me on this front. For starters let’s have a look at the Friends magazine for January 2023.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2023, Cover

LEGO Friends “celebrated” its tenth anniversary this year with very little fanfare. If the various blogs hadn’t written about it, you wouldn’t know. There was never a specific celebratory set or a special edition of the mag to make you aware on a broader basis and in particular outside the AFOL bubble. However, you might have noticed the different design for the 2023 sets. Apparently the company figured it would be time for a refresher of the series. This is not just affecting the visual design of the packaging and other marketing materials, by extension including the magazine, but also allegedly is supposed to modernize the Heartlake City world with new characters.

Of course half of that is just the usual marketing BS, as I don’t really believe much will change. They’re still going for the same tropes and stereotypes and just having a few more boys, more characters with colored skin and a few special needs people doesn’t really mean much when it’s so diluted that some things are barely noticeable. They still aim for girls of a certain age range and overall it’s too harmless to really advance matters like disabilities and diversity. Anyway, they’re throwing a ton of new names out there and this issue is filled to the brim with short bios and background info on those. Whether or not you can keep them all straight or don’t care much is an open question. I’ll probably not remember most of those names.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2023, Comic

The poster hammers this home as well with a group shot of some of the new gang, but if you prefer there’s also a shot of some kittens in a basket on the back side.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2023, Poster

The extra is a small cat castle/ cat scratching tree. It’s not that special, but overall done well enough. The more interesting aspect of it is the little black kitten. I tried to look it up on Bricklink, but it’s not yet listed there, so it must be a very new version of this creature. Even more surprising is the fact that I could only discover it in the upcoming Cat Hotel (41742). That would mean we’re getting a new animal version before it even appeared in a proper set. Could this be true? It’s certainly interesting to observe. If you don’t plan on buying that package, here’s your chance to get the little guy!

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2023, Extra

With everything being new again I didn’t mind the usual shortcomings of this mag as much, but truth be told of course the comic is still terrible and so are a few other things. I guess once we get used to the new Heartlake City inhabitants it will be back to boring, but at least in this first issue getting acquainted to the new characters adds a bit of excitement and distracts from the less great parts.

Juicy June – LEGO Friends Magazine, June 2022

It’s a well-established tradition that the LEGO Friends magazine is very seasonally themed and so here we are with the summer edition for this year.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, June 2022, Cover

As you would expect, the comic is centered around all sorts of activities one can do in the sun and the heat, most notably spend some time at a beach or a pool. Aside from my more general dislike for the Friends comics due to the girls looking creepy this one also comits a similar sin as the latest Jurassic World comic – everything looks just flat and lifeless and of course the story has very little substance beyond haphazardly trying to set you up to buy the latest pool-themed sets.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, June 2022, Comic

LEGO Magazine, Friends, June 2022, Comic

Personally I’m pleased that the magazine at some point has introduced more “real” activities and the coloring page has now become a staple. There are some more drawing-centric tasks plus a few puzzles. Another standout is a tic-tac-toe/ memory style “pack your picnic bag” game which could offer some ten minute fun. unfortunately it’s printed on one of the regular pages instead of the thicker outer wrapper, so durability and handling aren’t going to be great.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, June 2022, Coloring Page

The posters aren’t half bad this time as someone had the good sense to not plaster them with unnecessary typography or extra fluff character cutouts that don’t fit the subject and don’t match in perspective, the most common sin in many of Blue Ocean‘s designs.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, June 2022, Poster

The extra is a small push cart with a juice/ smoothie bar on it, which is rather appropriate for the subject at hand. It’s simple and efficient and well decked out with fruit, which is something one cannot always take for granted. Two bananas and an apple is nothing to balk at. The only thing that could have made it better would be one of the printed pineapple or melon minifigure heads, which I would have preferred in place of the smartphone tile.

This issue doesn’t quite give me the positive vibe I had with the last one, but it’s still quite good and absolutely serviceable to keep your kids occupied for a bit while enjoying the sun at a public pool or beach…

Cats & Vets – LEGO Friends Magazine, May 2022

While it fails to provide anything revolutionary, the LEGO Friends magazine keeps chugging along and still manages to tickle my feet every now and then. I wasn’t super excited for the May issue, but I knew it would at least be tolerable based on the preview in the last edition, so lets see what we’ve ended up with.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Cover

One thing I knew would make this bearable was the cat subject and the comic already is full of the little felines. The title of it, “Cat-astrophe” at this point is just lame word play, as this has really been overdone to death, but that’s just a minor thing. The overall style of the comics is still rather weird, but at least the story is relatable this time and not completely wacko. Some of the characters and scenes clearly point to the current sets as well with the pet clinic and houseboat for instance.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Comic

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Comic

The coloring pages by now are an established standard, so that’s just fine. If they didn’t try so hard to always squeeze in all the girls it might be even better. Who doesn’t like coloring cats and kittens? 😉 There’s two smaller coloring sections on other pages as well. Oddly enough, even the puzzles scattered throughout this time aren’t all that terrible. Overall there’s good content here that could keep your kids distracted for a good while.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Coloring Page

The posters repeat bits of the comics and match the overall topic quite well. I also found myself wanting those crazy-looking mice decoys in some form, be that as a LEGO piece or as a plushy or felt animal. They look kind of cute and interesting.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Poster

The extra is another examination table, of which we had several versions already over the years, even more so if you count the various pet grooming stations as well. The build therefore is quite similar to what we got before with some slight variations. One of those is actually using a solid 4 x 6 plate instead of scattering the individual assemblies onto several bricks or smaller plates. I got one of those Lavender plates with the not so great Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), but it’s not so widely used in sets. If you want one in a straightforward way this might be a good option. An interesting tidbit is the use of an actual Light Bluish Grey door on the container which is unusual for Friends in particular, but also in a more general sense. Those grey doors are surprisingly rarely used in sets.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, May 2022, Extra

Overall I’m surprised at myself how much I enjoyed this issue. It goes to show that a consistent motto and story thread have value and thinking about these things and not just throwing together random stuff pays off. I’d definitely recommend this one, especially if you have a soft spot in your heart for cats, of course.

It takes two! – LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699) and Pet Playground (41698)

There’s some things that just don’t work all by themselves in isolation and on the rare occasion that can be true for LEGO sets all the same. While within the individual themes and sub-series they of course are always designed with a consistent story or “group logic” in mind, you rarely find yourself in a situation where buying two at once seems inevitable because getting just one would feel incomplete.

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Box

Those are the sentiments I had with the Pet Adoption Café (41699). Something was seriously missing and I just couldn’t avoid getting the Pet Playground (41698) to make up for those shortcomings and, at least in my mind, improve the overall value. It literally takes two (sets). Ever since I came up with that headline I can’t get the Tina Turner & Rod Steward song with that name out of my head, but that is perhaps a story for another time.

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), Box

Price and Contents

Both sets are in the more affordable range with the café clocking in at 30 Euro suggested retail price for 292 pieces and the playground at 20 Euro for 210 pieces. As you would expect, that’s not necessarily the “real” price and they can be had for notable discounts. The café can be bought for 20 Euro or less and the playground will set you back a mere 12 Euro if you’re lucky. Aside from my usual Scrooge-y-ness out of necessity this seems much more in line with what you expect, as the original prices seem rather random and arbitrary. One set is basically just a simple house cubicle while the other is a collection of small objects to decorate a scene. The official pricing just does not compute in my head in terms of value for money, regardless whether you pin that on the number of pieces, their size or the overall volume of stuff.

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Overview

One thing that rubbed me the wrong way right away with the café is the shortage of animals. If this is an adoption opportunity, a measly three creatures just doesn’t cut it. This would then be a “take it or leave it” scenario and people would be disappointed. That’s like going to the animal shelter and only being shown the “problem dogs” nobody wants. There should definitely be at least double the number of pets in this set and this really shouldn’t be a problem, given that there are enough molds and color variants available. Incidentally, the playground fares much better in this regard and getting two baby kittens and a dog almost feels luxurious for such an affordable set.

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), Overview

The Café

Right away I have to admit that the LEGO version of the adoption café is nothing like I would have envisioned it. I never had any pets myself for a million reasons that are too boring to go into, but I’m friendly with most cats and dogs and have been playing around with the idea on and off in my head. That being the case, I also had a pretty clear picture of what I would the adoption process to be and what the potential venues for this should look and feel like. This certainly does not meet those criteria I envisioned!

Most importantly it just doesn’t have that positive, cosy vibe I’d expect. I basically would want to sit quietly in a corner and watch the little buggers from afar, waiting for a few of them to come up to me and then see how we respond to one another. None of this feeling is present here. It feels like a normal walk-in shop where you’d just pick an animal and then take it home. It all looks rather sterile and there’s neither enough room for the humans to actually sit down nor the pets to perch themselves or get engaged in activities. this could easily have been avoided had they designed it similar to Emma’s Art Café (41336) from a few years ago. Extending at least on side with an additional 6 x 8 plate or something like that to get an L-shaped design would have worked wonders!

This is another gripe I have here – everything looks terribly symmetric/ mirrored, in particular from the exterior. An asymmetrical design in line with the Golden Ratio rule would have looked much better. Conversely, if at least they had decked out one side of the front with, say, three windows, things would look quite different. That also goes for the color scheme. Even if it’s not the most pleasing combination, using Lavender and Magenta stripes could have worked when limited to one side. The other side could then have had a different stripe pattern or a wall in a simple single color. On that note, I also think that the Green floor does not work that well. This should be in Dark Tan or even Light Bluish Grey to not be as distracting, as the model already is way too colorful for its own good.

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), New Door

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), FiguresA small, but noteworthy detail is the new door type with the cat/ dog flap. It apparently appeared first in White in the Home Alone (21330) set and debuts in Dark Purple here. On the subject of colors, there’s a new skin color in the LEGO portfolio, used here for Priyanka (right figure), clearly a girl of Indian/ Bangladeshi descent as the name implies, clichéed as it may be. I have some more thoughts on the color itself and the reasoning behind it in a separate paragraph at the end 

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Schnauzer Dog I still try to collect as many LEGO animals as possible, so I’m always pleased to see new molds appear, even if lately I prefer the crisper, sharp-edged City versions over the more softly rounded Friends variants. The little Schnauzer/ (Scottish) Terrier is a nice addition to the catalog and should prove popular.

 

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), BicycleThe bicycle should look familiar to regular readers of my blog, as it was included in White in the Heartlake City Organic Café (41444). For the time being this Bright Light Orange version is only available in two sets, certainly someone with a permanent LEGO city might appreciate having it to add interest to its bustling streets.

 

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Outdoor Table The small table for the outside is an okay build, but really only your boring standard stuff. You’ve seen it a million times and this merely varies the them by using transparent round bricks, not solid color ones.

 

 

 

 

I’ll never make friends with stickers on brick-built models, but at least I can appreciate some of the effort that goes into designing the artwork, so this is a situation where once more really wish at least some of these motives came as prints on the elements. The thing that baffles me the most is that in a set called Pet Adoption Café they couldn’t manage to print the “Adopt me!” poster at least. If nothing else (considering that it’s on a separate standee, anyway), it would have been a nice gag. Of course it would have been equally nice if the round tiles were printed. I still have a hard time imagining kids in the target demographic putting on those stickers perfectly centered.

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), Stickers

The Playground

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), FiguresSince there is so little actual play content in the café, either digging out extra pieces and animals from your own stock or buying more sets will be required. For the purpose of this review (and my own ambitions for absorbing the pieces in my collection later) I opted for the latter, which might be LEGO‘s devious plan here, anyway. Doing so will give you another two minidolls and three more pets and that alone is a major improvement. The figures are just your standard Andrea and her sister Liz, but they have at least new prints.

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), TrashcanThe smallest side build in this set is a little trash bin for collecting the dog poop. While it may not look like much it is already notable in that a) the Lime Green trash can is a new color for this piece and b) the dish element in the same color also hasn’t been around since 2017 according to Bricklink.

 

 

The seesaw and carousel are extremely basic, but do what they are supposed to. They’re built onto the new 8 x 8 round plates in Tan, an element previously only seen in White in the DOTS Creative Party Kit (41926) where they serve as the lids to the “cupcake” containers. The interesting observation here is that likely we’re only getting them in this set, because they’ll also be used in the upcoming Orchid (10311) plant set (inside the pot) and LEGO already have produced large batches of them.

The counter-thesis to that is the gate with the turnstile where they cheapened out and have you assemble the base from two of the Lime Green half-plates that have been around forever. In this case it works okay, because ultimately there is not that much here that would necessitate a more robust construction, but it would have been nice. Maybe the situation changes once the stock of the half-plates has depleted and they switch production. On the positive side, they actually managed to include the only textured element, the signage on the entry gate, as a print. I guess there’s a threshold where printing a single tile is cheaper than producing a sticker sheet, after all.

LEGO Friends, Pet Playground (41698), Gate

The main attraction is the play castle, of course and this is full of little surprises in terms of what pieces are used, even if the build itself is just as simple. I was really taken aback, when I realized the 1 x 1 x 3 brick in Medium Nougat was a new color. They’re used in droves in every Friends set and I could have sworn I’ve seen them before! Other such recolors are the corner panels used for the sandbox and water pool, respectively. The rest is standard stuff and this builds in a breeze. I don’t know much about dog training, obviously, but personally I’m missing a bridge/ balance board on the whole thing where you would condition your dog not to be afraid of heights.

The New Color

LEGO are pretty bad when it comes to “representation” in the broadest sense with many product series propagating outdated tropes and stereotypes, parts of the populace being underrepresented or ignored, their weird pretentious “family friendly” policies just sweeping things under the rug and occasional cultural appropriation having some funny side effects. Now of course the Friends theme is guilty as charged and a prime example for many of those things such as adhering to outdated role models for girls and women.

Portraying different ethnicities and people of color has also been a particularly weak point not just in Heartlake City, with a sweeping majority of minifigures and minidolls being girls of the Caucasian type, i.e. having white/ pale skin. The irony here is that this is a problem they created for themselves a long time ago when they started moving away from just using yellow minifigure heads for licensed themes such as Star Wars and they had to find a way to accommodate all those skin tones. Heck, before it was deemed inappropriate and they gave them the Nougat moniker (though here too it could endlessly be argued what Nougat actually is, given that the same word means different things in different countries), they were even called Flesh.

They’ve certainly made some progress on that in the last two years with more more figures having darker skin tones and more diverse hairstyles and facial expressions, but it is still a far cry from encompassing some demographics. One very obvious omission from the color book was the very specific skin tone prevalent in the South Asian regions, meaning India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar and a few other countries. It’s not quite the dark browns and blacks of African Americans, but also not the lighter orange-ish/ light brown color that Hispanics and people of mixed heritage often have.

LEGO Friends, Pet Adoption Café (41699), New Skin ColorThis little problem has now been rectified by introducing a new color. LEGO calls it Medium Brown and it’s placed somewhere between Reddish Brown and Medium Nougat. I tried, but my camera definitely is quite limited, so the specifics of the color don’t come out as clearly in a photo, but you’d definitely see it when you have it in front of you. The color itself actually feels more like a Dark Brown (rightmost brick in the top row) that has been lightened with White since it does not share the reddish tinge of the neighboring colors. It’s more of a “cool” or “neutral” color like the aforementioned Dark Brown or for that matter also Dark Tan.

Now of course as always when LEGO introduce a new color there is a grander plan behind it and while using it for figures only for a while would be just fine, they’ve already expanded its use. The LEGO ART set Elvis Presley “The King” (31204) already features 1 x 1 round tiles in this color as well. That gives me hope that not too far in the future we may also see other elements like plates and bricks appear in this color in other packages, as not too long ago someone seems to have had some sort of epiphany and realized that “skin colors” look nice for other things as well when used with care. The Boutique Hotel (10297) is proof of that. With that in mind one would hope that Medium Brown will be used to similar effect as yet one more option for wood elements, facades, trees and so on or as a substitute e.g. in the Architecture series when Dark Brown might look too much like Black due to the scale effect. If LEGO are smart about it and commit to this, I can see a multitude of uses here.

Disclaimer: None of this is meant to be in any way racially or ethnically insensitive, so please let me know if I used poor wording or wrote something offensive while trying to explain my train of thought.


Concluding Thoughts

Unfortunately this is one more case where LEGO just didn’t get it right. You could argue about the subject and how they have infantilised something that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but that’s not the point since the children won’t make much of it, anyway. However, you can question their design and business decisions and this is where for me things don’t really work. The smaller playground set is okay and could be used in conjunction with other sets as well, but the adoption café? That’s why I feel it would have been a much better decision to merge these two packages into one, refine and change a few things and sell it for 40 Euro as a more wholesome set. Given how things are currently, you would have to spend that money, anyway, and that’s basically what you should plan for: If you want to get the café, you can’t possibly avoid buying a complimentary set. The playground would be one of the more affordable options, though not necessarily the only one.

Rabbit Invasion – LEGO Friends Magazine, March 2022

The date when Mr. Easter Bunny will be visiting is still a ways off, but his next of kin are already here thanks to the March 2022 edition of the LEGO Friends magazine.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2022, Cover

Rabbits are of course pretty cute – most smaller breeds, anyway. Even I can’t escape their quirky charm whenever I’m at a small petting zoo or visiting relatives. On the other hand, they are pesky little buggers and notoriously prone to falling ill with all sorts of weird infections, so keeping them is not as easy as it sounds and as this magazine makes it look. You might need to be prepared for that if your kid falls in love with the idea and keeps pestering you about it. 😉

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2022, Comic

As always the comic is so-so, with the best moments/ best panels being the ones where the girls don’t annoy the heck out of everyone by being in view like someone tried to zoom in on their teenage girl pimples, a.k.a. puberty acne. Otherwise it’s just the usual combination of cheap soap opera level writing, the girls seemingly wearing the same clothes everyday and some harebrained stuff going on in Heartlake City. Funny enough the car shown in the comic bears quite a bit of similarity to the recent Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), though in reality it would be even smaller than that.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2022, Comic

Thankfully there’s loads of other pages such as this info page on a few rabbit varieties, several coloring bits and a few quizzes/ puzzles, of course. This makes the whole thing tolerable, as clearly the comic alone doesn’t hold a candle to provide enough interest.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2022, Info

The poster with the two baby rabbits snuggling up to each other is also quite okay, while the back side has just yet another umpteenth group shot of the girl gang.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2022, Poster

The extra is a small enclosure for the rabbit such as you would likely have at home if you were to have such a small critter. It even has a small drinking spout. The colors are interesting, since the flap element used for the slide is in Bright Light Blue, a rare variant. There’s also a single 1 x 2 plate in that same color. I guess we’re just lucky that LEGO came out with a few sets using those pieces last year and we can profit off surplus stock here. Something similar could be said for the rabbit droppings, which are Dark Brown, not the more common Reddish Brown. Again we have to thank the ART sets for them being available at all in this color. The yellow corrugated bricks mimicking the hay/ straw are also nice. I only have a few from other sets and every bit helps to expand my parts stock, obviously.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2022, Extra

The general shortcomings of this publication notwithstanding, this issue is one of the better ones. It isn’t as atrociously “teenage fantasy” as some others and there’s enough content aside from the comic to warrant a purchase. There are even a few unique pieces, which make me a happy camper.

Plant a Tree, Save the Planet? – LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707)

It’s been a minute since I last reviewed a LEGO Friends set and that has a lot to do with the rather atrocious “Magical Funfair” theme that just didn’t appeal to me both in terms of value for money and overall design aesthetic. The new early 2022 releases at least improve upon the latter, but not necessarily the former. It’s probably safe to say that unless it falls out of the sky for free, I won’t be reviewing a 150 Euro set like the Main Street Building (41704) and I’m not too certain about the Canal Houseboat (41702) and Friendship Tree House (41703), either, given that they have a lot of large compound parts like ship hulls and “tree” shells that I have no use for. Anyway, we’ll have top see how that goes, but for now let’s see what the Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707) does offer.

LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), Box

Price and Contents

Sadly, LEGO have become very greedy lately and the pandemic with its supply chain issues and high demand because everyone is at home has been playing into their hands. This is also manifest in this set.

A 30 Euro price tag for 336 pieces may not look that unusual at first, but you can tell just by looking at the official promo images or my overview shot that many of these are just either small 1 x 1 pieces or insignificant standard elements that can be had for cheap on Bricklink. Except for a few more special parts it could be scraped together from other sources relatively easy for almost the same price. Our German LEGO price comparison site Brickmerge states a part-out value of around 45 Euro and that pretty much can only be blamed on some parts exclusive to this set like the Medium Azure slopes and a few items only found in other expensive sets like the 3 x 3 cylinders used here for the flower pots from Bowser’s Airship (71391).

With that said, of course the whole package thankfully can be had much cheaper at your favorite retailer. I got mine for 20 Euro, representing a 30 % discount, but lately it has dropped as far as 17 Euro for a 43 % price cut. As usual I would definitely recommend to get it as cheaply as possible, but I don’t feel bad about what I spent. While it may not offer a large number of pieces, it builds into two reasonably large models

LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), Overview

The Glasshouse

The first build in the set is a glasshouse/ greenhouse in which the sprouts and saplings are grown until they can be planted in the wilderness. My problem here is that while it captures the feeling of such a building, the model is way, way, way too small to count as a professional operation. In fact this looks more like one of those greenhouses a hobbyist gardener would bash together from used doors and windows of dilapidated houses, something I remember well from my youth growing up in Eastern Germany where building supplies were always in short supply and people had to make do with what they could find.

The whole situation isn’t helped by how the plants are represented – a few vines and lots of large leaf-based builds just don’t give that sense of actual trees, but rather cabbage and flowers being pre-grown. That said, the greenhouse is nice in its own right, but for all intents and purposes this is more a conventional garden house than anything seriously to do with growing trees. On the bright side, this is the first time in a long while where the triple-split large window elements have become available in White again and the angled roof windows come with transparent glassing, not Trans Light Blue, so there’s that. If you need multiples of those, buying this set more than once certainly could be an option with the right discounts.

As they say “The lady comes apart” and the individual sub-assemblies can be placed separately for play such as they are. It doesn’t necessarily make that much sense, but is always a good option for the kids. That being said, the feeling that there should be more definitely lingers, in particular in terms of actual trees. There easily could have been another bit of soil with some tree stalks on it. This becomes even more apparent once you actually start to play with the two potted bushes/ trees to place them on the truck or elsewhere. This goes so far as the underlying plate assembly breaking up since the pots are also used as a structural element to hold the round plate and an extra 2 x 6 plate together. This is genuinely a major design flaw!

LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), Glasshouse, Separated Parts

The Truck

We’re seeing trucks a plenty across all of LEGO‘s series and this therefore could easily be just another one of them. However, no matter how tired this trope may be, this little truck feels fresh enough to be interesting. I in particular like the compact, short design which makes it look cute. It’s a bit too large in scale to truly count as one of those small utility trucks such companies or public service providers maintaining parks and such often have. This is even more obvious since this is supposed to be an electrical car and the engineering metrics don’t make sense then. Still, not the worst LEGO truck I’ve seen.

Despite its other qualities, the color scheme of the truck slightly bugs me. I get it – with Olivia being the main protagonist they had to have her color scheme somewhere in this set, but clearly there is an over-abundance of Medium Azure in Heartlake City due to this color being used by multiple girls and I feel that they could have changed up the formula here in the interest of presenting something fresh. In keeping with the ecological subject I think this would have been a wonderful opportunity to give us a Yellowish Green vehicle. My reasoning here is that many electrical cars have very fashionable colors to distinguish themselves from conventional fuel cars, anyway, plus the color would help to communicate what it is all about. Alternatively Bright Green would also have been nice, as many such companies and agencies purposely use it.

LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), Truck, Cockpit

One advantage of the oversized car is that both figures fit in it, further adding play value. The roof can easily be removed for full access. Now of course the short car has to have one disadvantage and that is that despite there being provision for two attachment points, not both flower pots can be loaded onto the cargo bed without getting in the way of each other or the small hydraulic crane interfering. The latter is also rather awkward to use and cannot be extended far enough for actual loading, so you may want to consider just leaving it off. Removing the crane would free up the one extra row of studs you’d need to move the jumper plate forward and then finally you could plug on both pots. This may have more play value for your child than clinging to the crane.

LEGO Friends, Tree-Planting Vehicle (41707), Truck, Cargo Bed


Concluding Thoughts

The elephant in the room is of course a simple question: What does this set actually have to do with tree-planting? It seems LEGO intentionally mislabeled this set to cater for the zeitgeist of presenting an eco-friendly image. Only too bad that things aren’t that simple even if the package actually resembled what it promises. We can plant trees all we want, but it won’t save the planet without other measures alongside! This really kind of riles me up…

My personal peeves aside this is certainly a pretty decent set if you take it for what it is – an interesting spin on (professional) gardening and green keeping that just can’t quite decide what it wants to be. A larger greenhouse would have improved this massively and if you have the cash, I would definitely recommend to at least try and buy a second set to bash something together that has a little more space. Otherwise it’s just fine and has enough play value for the intended demographic.

Similarly, the truck is good, but still could have been better with minor changes and a different color scheme might even have attracted people that don’t buy Friends sets otherwise. It really feels like a missed opportunity to bring something new to the Heartlake community. So for better or worse this set is “just fine”, when it could have been really great…

Back to the Woods -LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679)

The supply chain and overall availability issues that affect so many products during the pandemic also persist for LEGO, so it still takes forever until you can get your hands on some products at all or they are more widely available at reasonable prices. That’s why the Forest House (41679) from the LEGO Friends series only now found its way into my home now, almost two months after its May release in these parts.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Box

Price and Contents

One of the reasons I did not rush to the store for this set on day one is of course the usual price consideration. With 326 pieces and a suggested price of 30 Euro the value of this set is not bad right out of the gate, but every bit of money saved helps, apparently. I got this for 23 Euro and would predict that eventually it will level off around the 20 Euro-ish mark.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Overview

No matter the price, as far as LEGO Friends sets go this is pretty good value. I certainly had a number of stinkers in my short time doing this, but you really can’t complain about this set. As you may already gather from the overview image you get quite a bit of bulk here. The tree house is sizable, there’s three minifigures and an animal plus an extra piece of river/ waterfall and a canoe. If every set for 20 Euro was that rich we’d live in a better world.

The Figures

The selection of the minidolls in this set is a bit odd, to be honest, given that Mia and Ava (the kid) were already in the Heartlake City Organic Café (41444) earlier this year. Even if this would count as a spare time activity vs. their professional occupation it seems strange how the girls jump from activity to activity without much logic and a consistent story behind it. If this was a movie, you’d complain about the plot holes, if you get my meaning.

An interesting observation also is that the khaki shorts Mia wears at the café would be much more adequate here. A bit of body swap surgery might not be a bad idea if you have both sets/ figures, respectively. Similarly, a different dress color for Ava would have been nice. On the bright side we are getting Sand Blue pants by ways of Ann, which could come in handy as jeans/ worker pants for the few male characters in Heartlake City. Oh, and anyone notice the all three-letter names, anyway?

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Figures

The figures are easily outdone by the single animal in this set, the raccoon. This is a new mold and for the time being can only be found in this set and the Forest Camper Van and Sailboat (41682) also associated with the forest excursion sub-theme. It’s just plain and simple cute and apparently also one of the motivations behind getting this set. The only thing that could have made it better would have been the inclusion of a second raccoon or a baby version of it, but I guess LEGO are going to wait with that to give us a reason to buy more sets next year. 😉

The Side Builds

There are two side builds, with one of them really being limited to plugging the round tile and the foot holder element into the canoe hull. The Magenta is a new color and expands the somewhat limited color options for this mold.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Canoe

The other extra is a piece of river put together from a bunch of simple plates and bricks. Though the wild water rapids are hinted at, it cannot accommodate the full length of the kayak, so it’s not that useful for this. It will work wonderfully as a place to put the raccoon, however, with him having a sip from the clear water or washing his food in it. This little island also features one of the pine trees created from the new Bright Green versions of some elements specifically produced for this series.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), River

The Tree House

The actual tree house isn’t really a forest tree house but rather a somewhat luxurious backyard tree house or lodge as you would build it in your garden. Most notably it includes several “luxury” extras such as the barbecue grill, the large couch and the gazebo-like structure that you likely would not have somewhere deep in the Alaskan woods or similar. Still, the overall design is not bad.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Front Right View

The frame construction also serves as a clever trick to provide extra stability to the whole model and prevent it from toppling over, something many “single pole” tree houses can be prone to if they get too top-heavy. Furthermore it also indirectly reinforces the connections of the plates used for the ground. In engineering terms, it’s more or less a box frame visually disguised. Clever as it may be there is one caveat here, though, as the build sequence isn’t always ideal.

One very critical thing is for instance the 2 x 4 brick used for the grill which according to the instructions will only be added rather near the end of the respective build for this exterior area. I would recommend you jump ahead a little and at least put the brick itself in place early to strengthen the connection of the plates underneath or else you may struggle with the green 6 x 6 round corner plate coming off again and again like it happened to me a number of times. Not a big issue, but one that could have been avoided by shuffling a few construction steps around.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Front Left View

The back of the model and thus the interior of the house loses a bit of fancy compared to the front. I’m not complaining about the shallow depth at only four studs – that was to be expected in this price range – but personally I’m missing at least one cool detail. For all intents and purposes it is very mundane and ordinary. Simple things as an (emergency) gasoline lamp hanging from the wall or a candle might have already enlivened it and then their could be all kinds of outdoor equipment like a butterfly net, a fishing rod and so on as well.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Back Left View

One thing I was pleased with is that the model uses “sensible” elements that are reusable well enough for my own projects. By that I mean that the designers have actually opted to give us as much to build as possible and foregone using those awful elongated 1 x 2 x 5 bricks and similar that you find in so many Friends sets. Instead indeed we have a good number of traditional 1 x 2 and 1 x 4 bricks to build real walls.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Back Right View

This trend is also visible elsewhere with the arch elements being properly embedded in the walls, the number of big “shell” elements to shape the roundness of the tree trunk to an acceptable minimum and some smaller plates and tiles being pieced together to add some texture as opposed to using larger, more monolithic parts. I even like that they used colored windows to make it less monotone. It would just have been preferable if the window frames were Dark Green or something like that.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Detail Grapes

The greenery stuff is adequate, but could be a bit more dense in my opinion. This again hearkens back to this being more of a somewhat luxurious holiday cabin rather than an actual tree house where presumably you’d have quite some thicket coverage after not having been there for a while. that also makes the blue grapes look a bit out of place even if you interpret this as being bramble vines winding around the wood frame.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Detail Toilet

The tree trunk contains a small toilet, which is a little gag, but really not much more. Would people even go out of their way to build such a room or wouldn’t your camping loo or a separate outhouse make more sense? Again this space could probably have been used for storing some utilities just as well. The attic and roof are serviceable, but a bit barren. There’s a single grey tile on the outside on which you are supposed to put a solar panel sticker, but not even a matching light on the inside or a small radio which would certainly have made more sense than a perfume flask. It’s not really logical/ plausible and can only be explained away with the usual “It’s for kids, after all!”.

LEGO Friends, Forest House (41679), Detail Attic

For the exterior of the roof it would have been nice if they included some 1 x 4 and 1 x 3 tiles with wood prints to make it look a bit more rugged and improvised as if it had been bashed together from used wood boards originally belonging to something else like a transport palette. just two or three of those on either side would have greatly helped to further this impression.

Parts a Plenty

On the subject of new, recolored and printed parts this set is a well of joy. Some of them are very visible in the photos and should require no further explanation. I also already mentioned the canoe and the parts for the pine trees:

The other parts are a little less visible because they are used on the tree trunk:

Personally I was once more stumped that the 2 x 2 Macaroni never had been done in this color in all those years. Goes to show that there is still room to surprise even for legacy elements. There’s also the  Tile 1 x 3 in Bright Green, an item you likewise would think has existed in this color for forever already, but no, it’s pretty fresh in this color, though not exclusive and not limited to this set.


Concluding Thoughts

This is by all means a nice model and even in my world as a very critical reviewer this would score an 8.5 out of 10 at least, give or take a few minor niggles. There is very little to complain about. The set is full of new useful pieces and color variants, it is very affordable and to top it off comes with a completely new animal. This is basically the kind of set that just by buying it once will give you ideas on what you want to do with the bits from it and it gives a major boost to your parts stock. Could some things have been better? Sure, but for around 20 Euro you can’t really argue.

This is one of those little gems that regrettably have gotten so rare in the LEGO world. Where other (Friends) sets feel they are merely created to deplete overflow part supply or sell expensive extras like animals at ridiculous prices, this one gives the impression that some thought and love was poured into it to make it well-balanced and worth your money. I can highly recommend this set as it hits all the right notes from being very playable and robust to just looking nice.

Not a Movie worth watching – LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448)

In my old life before my chronic illness struck I considered myself quite a bit of a film buff and would regularly go to the cinema, buy stacks of DVDs, write reviews of films I liked on my old blog and even attended official press screenings for yet to be released movies every now and then to write professional essays for some media outlets. These days the situation is a bit different for a multitude of reasons, but I still like to obsess about certain movies as much as I can. All the same, that’s why the idea of a LEGO cinema set appealed to me and I was pleased when the Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448) was announced late last year. Now that I finally have it, let’s see what it has to offer.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Box

Price and Contents

I had my eyes on this set from the day it was announced, but never had a real excuse to buy it. I thought the idea was cool and I wanted some of the parts in this set, anyway, yet it never became an urgent matter because otherwise the shortcomings this set would have were all too obvious. Even on the official promotional photos this does not look like you are getting a lot of volume for your money and the idea of using a smartphone as a screen was once more extremely off-putting, because it negatively influenced some of the design decisions that went into this set.

It’s that old thing of LEGO expecting six-year-olds to spend all day with a mobile device and integrating it in their models. True, kids do have access to these things and on the train and elsewhere I see parents letting their kids watch animated series on phones to distract them and soothe them all the time, but it’s not like you would want your pre-schooler spend their entire time doing that unsupervised while playing in their room. I have no kids, but having grown up in a different age and not being one to always chase the latest tech and social media trends I’m pretty much opposed to LEGO bastardizing their products in such a manner.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Overview

The set officially has 451 pieces, which sounds a lot, but at the end of the day it really isn’t. There are many rather large pieces like the rounded shells or the round canopy bricks, but also a lot of small pieces like the 1 x 1 quarter tiles or the Trans Yellow 1 x 1 studs for the marquee lights. In fact there is not that many regular pieces like 1 x 2 and 1 x 4 bricks, so right from the get-go you feel like there is not a lot of bulk. Given that, the original price of 50 Euro seems way, way too much. To me this indeed feels like it should always have not cost more than 35 Euro. Anything above that is a stretch.

Because of the inadequate pricing I leaned back and bide my time until some decent discount would come along. That happened very recently on Amazon Germany. They apparently really wanted to clear up space in their warehouse and wanted to get rid of some stock, so they fired this out in some sort of reverse auction scheme, i.e. one where prices are dropping continuously until the lowest bidder buys a product or the supply runs out. You could literally watch how this set dropped from its already discounted 37 Euro every day. I chickened out after four days and bought it for 28 Euro, representing something like a 45 % discount, but indeed I could have waited two days more and got it for 25 Euro, pretty much an exact 50 % off. Funny enough this pattern was repeating just this weekend on Amazon France.

For this low price the set is still not great, but it became acceptable and for me personally of course this brought it within the range where buying the individual parts on Bricklink would have been just as expensive.

The Figures

The number of figures is way too low for this type of set with only three being in the box. You know, while the promotional materials show the glitz and glamour of a red carpet premiere, in actuality this would be more like a poorly attended matinee. In addition to Andrea who can either be interpreted as a fan chasing for autographs or the organizer of the event, depending on how you feel about that, we only get Amelia in her Dark Turquoise evening gown as a genuine guest of honor.

The only guy in the room, Julian, is apparently one of them poor students who serve multiple functions at once in real cinemas, be that an usher, a cleaning maid, a snacks & drinks seller and whatever else needs to be taken care of. At least they gave him a decent uniform, old-fashioned as it may be. the practical value of the figures is limited, but you can at least some components for a bit of mix & match if you have other Friends or Disney Princess minidolls. It works of course just the same in reverse. The cyan dress would look nice for a ball at Elsa‘s palace or something like that. Other than that the only real highlight is the guy’s hair, which is a recolor of the Superman hair and so far is in fact only available via Friends sets (this one and the Heartlake City School (41682)) in the Medium Nougat color.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Figures

The Building

As you may have gathered already from my first few paragraphs I’m not particularly crazy about this set due to what I consider some serious design flaws. these become most apparent when viewing the assembled model from the top. The front section with the entry lobby and the signage looks actually okay and pretty massive, but the main screening room comes across as if it was merely plugged on as an afterthought.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Top View

The front facade is clearly based on classic 1950s/ 1960s American cinema designs as you probably still can find them in many small towns across the country even today, assuming they haven’t been replaced by a large multiplex. That’s a neat touch and the use of Light Aqua is a nice touch, not just because it’s one of my favorite LEGO colors. It’s subtle and classy enough that a restored old cinema could be painted in this shade without looking too crazy.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Front Right View

The front is divided into three distinct sections, with the box office/ ticket booth being on the right of the building, a central entry section with dual doors and a small “celebrity photo stage” on the left side. While visually it looks nice enough, I got miffed here for the first time. the small protrusions in the middle and the fenced-off pedestal are only attached by a handful of studs and fall off as soon as you move the model. This is for all intents and purposes just bad engineering. Such things are barely tolerable for collectible models for adults and shouldn’t even have been approved for a set aimed at children.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Front Left View

You would be correct in guessing that many of those large areas are supposed to be covered with stickers, but as you know I never use any of those. This also goes for the marquee area. Personally I don’t mind, but it’s not much of a stretch to conclude that at least some parts should be printed. Either that or they could and should have included a solution where some posters or marquee text could be dynamically substituted by stickers applied to flag/ tapestry elements, a technique used extensively for instance in the big Ninjago City (70620) set.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Front View

The back side or interior by comparison looks extremely simple and barren. The lack of actual walls on the side is one thing that contributes to this feeling, but not using the space on the top and housing in the film projector are too blame just as well. that and of course the absence of am actual screen box/ stage and only some flimsy Technic liftarms serving as the holders for a smartphone.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Back Left View

I’ve already criticized this, and it becomes even more upsetting the more you look at it. It’s not like they didn’t have options here – a slide frame into which to place some printed cardboard screens with famous film scenes recreated in LEGO style sure wouldn’t have been too much to ask and could by itself have added quite a bit of coolness. If the graphics were done right, people might even have hung them up as posters or used them as postcards and LEGO could have made a quick buck on selling extra packs…

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Back Right View

Another thing that bothered me massively is the overall fragile construction due to the hinge mechanism. It’s not done very well with only two hinges on either side and, which is the real problem here those hinges barely being locked in by other bricks. As a result the model is prone to warping when opening the sides to the point where you can literally just break things apart by applying too much force and Archimedes‘ law of the levers taking effect. I found myself pressing stuff back in place way too much for my taste.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Open Wings

The details intended for play scenarios are sufficient, but not great. There’s simply not much to do and for instance the box office/ snack bar has far too few items. Even just adding a few ice cones would have gone a long way, not to speak of things like a popcorn machine, chocolate bars and so on.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Detail Box Office

The bathroom is also devoid of details. Don’t mind the toilet being placed so oddly, that’s entirely my own mistake. Anyway, they’re not using this space very efficiently, as most of the curved space remains open.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Detail Bathroom

Once you study the details and put your mind to it you also realize that LEGO have been playing it cheap and not recolored elements specifically for this set. Having all arches in Light Aqua as well would have made things a bit more harmonious at least.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Movie Theater (41448), Detail Screening Room


Concluding Thoughts

This is by no means a good set by any measure. The idea is actually great, but the execution suffers from that nonsensical mobile device integration at every turn. Unfortunately it’s also not as simple as saying “Buy a second set and create a better model.” because many things would need major restructuring and you still need to dig into your own parts supply. It’s really regrettable, as this could have been something really great, but LEGO completely squandered the opportunity.

I can hardly justify buying it for the massive discount I got it for and would definitely not at all recommend it at full price. This is once more a case of where the math worked out for me because I wanted the pieces, but this wasn’t much fun building, it’s not much fun to look at and quite likely it wouldn’t be much fun to play with, either. Your money is definitely spent better on other sets.

Cube-ism – LEGO Friends, Various Cubes (41662 through 41666)

Heartlake City is a weird little town as is the LEGO Friends universe at large and so over the years there certainly have been a number of rather odd sets and products been associated with the series. Sometimes one doesn’t mind and they are halfway okay and useful like the heart boxes two years ago, other times one can only wonder what substances they must be inhaling in Billund to even come up with this stuff. One of those anomalies are the LEGO Friends cubes that have been around since last year.

I never had much interest in the first two series from the outset. to me it was always clear that this would be just a cheap way for LEGO to cash in with a minimum of effort. Sure, they had to produce the boxes and manufacture those colored animals, but outside that everything just appeared like recycling surplus parts readily at hand in the factory, and not the most attractive ones at that. Even the girls’ dress prints were the standard versions found in the respective wild life/ sea rescue sets at the time. Other than really wanting a Dark Azure llama or teddy bear there was really no good reason to get one of those cubes. I didn’t even like the odd color combinations with the Trans Blue/ Trans Purple lids, sometimes with glitter even.

All that changed ever so slightly with this year’s edition, that finally seemed to add some genuine value to the series and improved upon several aspects. So I added them to my list of things to check out and got four of them. I did not purchase Emma’s Dalmatian Cube (41663) yet, because it is actually the most bland one (which is a bit ironic, given that Emma is still my favorite girl), but I might do so at some point just for the sake of being complete with this series.

Price and Contents

Of course despite my “getting over it” the price to actual value rating for these sets is still terrible. With the suggested retail price locked at 10 Euro, you can’t really put it another way. That’s a lot of dough for two large box pieces, a minidoll and a handful of regular LEGO pieces. Therefore naturally the advice has to be to get them as cheap as you possibly can. In the past prices would dip down to around 5 Euro for the older series’ cubes, but due to the insane demand in the pandemic you should feel lucky if you get them for 7 Euro. That is unless you’re feeling really adventurous and want to wait for that clearance sale early next year with the potential risk of not being able to get everything you want then.

The packaging is the pretentious “bag” type. also used on the already mentioned heart boxes and also quite common for some Ninjago stuff like the various small Spinjitzu play sets. This means that apart from the actual cube there is a lot of empty space in there. Typically there’s one of the bags with the larger pieces stuffed in the tip, but overall still a lot of room for nothing. My impression is that they really could have packaged more nicely into one of the Brickheadz-sized boxes and retailers would likely have been the happier for them not gobbling up so much unusable shelf space.

A little bit of Decoration

A notable difference compared to the previous editions is the introduction of exterior decorations for the cubes. This was a big contributing factor to my decision to have a look at those sets. Granted, I don’t really care much for the cloth pieces, but if you know me, the new bracket elements used on the cat’s and pug’s ears inevitably caught my attention. This goes even further on the cat with the two 2 x 3 curved slopes in bright Pink, a piece otherwise so far only found on the ill-fated Overwatch D.Va & Reinhardt (75978) set. So yes, my obsession about specific pieces kicked in and drove me further toward a purchase.

LEGO Friends, Various Cubes (41662-41666)

Soul Mates – The Girls and their Pets

As I wrote earlier, I never had much interest in the surprise animals in the earlier series’ boxes. The concept of taking an existing mold and recoloring it just for the sake of coercing people to buy multiple such sets to collect them all is still extremely foreign to me and, given the cost, really also a bit unfair in my opinion. Okay, people do crazy stuff all the time and you need not look far when you see how some people spend a small fortune on minifigures, but to me it’s just weird. Aside from my financial restrictions maybe I’m just thinking too practically about these matters to be ensnared by any such collectibles stuff.

LEGO Friends, Various Cubes (41662-41666)

The animals are what the names of the boxes imply, with the only real novelty being that the pug, the cat and also Emma‘s Dalmatian are the new pup/ cub baby versions for 2021. Only the flamingo and bunny represent adult versions. The flamboyant bird is pretty much the only creature where this color stuff makes at least a lick of sense in that it looks credible and can be used rather universally. It’s as a matter of fact one of the few items from the previous series (with the seahorse being the other exception perhaps) that I wouldn’t mind having all versions of. Anyway, I got lucky on the first try and got the conventional version in Dark Pink, which is fine with me. As you can see, the other animals take some getting used to in these odd colors no matter how cute they look otherwise.

The most notable thing however this time around aren’t even the pets, but rather the girls themselves. Someone at LEGO must have realized that in order to compel people to buy this expensive stuff you have to give them something unique to make it worth their while and lo and behold, all of the girls have custom shirt designs reflecting their association with their animal! Of course that doesn’t preclude that those same prints may be reused later in regular sets as well, but for the time being you only can find them here. don’t get me wrong – I have limited use in my life for normal minfigures and even less for minidolls, but for a kid there could be some value here if they e.g. play with their vet clinic or similar. A distraught Mia having her injured pet checked out and arriving on the scene in a matching shirt has its value.

Olivia’s Flamingo Cube (41662)

The individual cubes are pretty much what you would expect – serviceable play scenes with a minimalist approach to the details. However, this series has netted us some unique items that also should be useful in the long term.

The first of those is funny enough the minifigure head with the watermelon print. This will make many people happy who are looking to spice up their grocery stores, organic café or garden. It’s really one of those little items that makes you wonder why it took so long, considering that we had the matching printed quarter tile for forever already. Another nice addition is the yellow leaf element after they were introduced in the Modular Buildings Bookstore (10270). And finally of course the pink frog, but as you may already know you can easily get heaps of them by just buying the Bonsai Tree (10281). A nice touch, but as I wrote in my various frog-related articles such as this review I’m still waiting for that Strawberry Dart Frog. 😉

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Flamingo Cube (41662), Interior

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Flamingo Cube (41662), Builds

Mia’s Pug Cube (41664)

The pug cube is easily the most mundane of the ones I bought. If it wasn’t for the ears and thus the brackets they are built with I likely would have skipped over them. There’s a bit of a crossover with the pug costume figure from the current Collectible Minifigures Series 21 with the Dark Turquoise bone chewing toy being present. I guess this connection could be incentive for some minifig collectors to buy this set as well.

LEGO Friends, Mia's Pug Cube (41664), Interior

LEGO Friends, Mia's Pug Cube (41664), Builds

Stephanie’s Cat Cube (41665)

The cat cube is again all about the ears and the brackets, but some additional value is easily found in the blue bird. They are still surprisingly scarce, only being included in a handful of sets. Would be good if LEGO really used them more often and also produced them in different colors so one could enliven your models. It’s almost tragic that you can buy expensive Modular Buildings, but for the life of it can’t have a flock of sparrows populating them. The other thing of value, and this is going to sound extremely crazy is – *drumroll* – the small white feather/ quill. You can look it up on Bricklink, but apparently these small minifigure head accessories fetch a high price as apparently they are in demand for restoration of old pirate-ish minifigures or Harry Potter stuff, among other things.

LEGO Friends, Stephanie's Cat Cube (41665), Interior

LEGO Friends, Stephanie's Cat Cube (41665), Builds

Andrea’s Bunny Cube (41666)

The bunny cube again has one of them yellow leaves along with two orange ones and some nice Dark Brown (!) elements. In addition, there’s also a recolored Red BB-8 droid head/ dome as a mushroom, a new variant for this year. As far as I know this can only be found in the Heartlake City Park (41447) otherwise.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Bunny Cube (41666), Interior

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Bunny Cube (41666), Builds

The Bracket Mystery

I’ve mentioned it a number of times, but indeed LEGO introduced a new bracket type element just for these sets to be able to create the ears on some of the cubes. For now they only come in Bright Pink and Bright Light Orange, which limits their usefulness for more generic projects right out of the gate, but beyond that there is also the lingering question of whether you would ever need them?! I have thought about this quite a bit and while I won’t claim to have considered everything, I can’t quite see where this would fit.

Point in case: In regular models without the challenge of having to build over a curved brick you would just use the regular perpendicular brackets and only use the curved pieces left and right of this. So far there really seems no advantage in using this piece other than using this as an option to create specific patterns or loosely attach stuff as I was pondering elsewhere already. We should find out soon if there are sets that put this to use and then perhaps things will click with me. For the time being it’s just a bit of fun doodling around. At least to those who were interested in this: Yes, it really fits of the arched bricks and not just on the cubes as the image sufficiently illustrates (I hope).

LEGO Friends, Stephanie's Cat Cube (41665), New Bracket


Concluding Thoughts

Make no mistake – while this year’s edition of these cubes is considerably better than the brainless efforts of the past, this is still not something I would consider in any way essential. It’s nice that they are investing a bit more into the series, but overall the concept strikes me as too limited to really go anywhere. This is typical fare you may want to bring along as a small gift for birthdays or buy for your child on a holiday when you are in a generous spending mood, but as “serious” LEGO this is simply missing too much.

It’s extremely likely that you can always find a 10 Euro City or Creator set that offers far more building fun and play value, not to speak of competitors’ offerings, which ultimately may be the crux of this product. It doesn’t feel that much like a brick-based toy, yet at the same time it would also be pretty poor choice to take on a trip to a sandy beach for instance. It’s stuck between those two sides and if the collecting aspect for the colored animals doesn’t even matter to you, it has very little going for it.

You’re not welcome? – LEGO Friends, Andrea’s Family House (41449)

Despite the general shortages in LEGO supply, sooner than I had anticipated an opportunity opened up to get Andrea’s Family House (41449). Yes, it was one of those unpredictable late Friday evening Amazon discounts that spontaneously made me make a purchase, but who’s complaining? I’ll take whatever I can under these circumstances.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), Box

Price and Contents

I snatched up this set for around 52 Euro, which equates to a 25 percent discount. If things ever get a bit more normal I would expect it to go below the 50 Euro threshold, but not by much, given that it’s actually a pretty large set with enough meat on its bones to warrant its price. The suggested retail price of 70 Euro is perhaps stretching it a bit, but in this particular case I think anything below 60 Euro is actually more than reasonably fair.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), Overview

You get around 800 pieces, many of them large ones, and five minidolls, some of which are also pretty good. More importantly, however, you have to figure in that this set is a treasure trove of uniquely new or recolored parts, some of which could be ample justification alone to get this set – assuming of course you have a liking for the colors and/ or a specific use case. So without further ado, lets have a look at them.

New Pieces Galore

It is clearly going to be the year of Dark Cyan for LEGO with many sets featuring the color prominently or more to the point new or existing elements as recolored items. This set is no exception with several items being included in this color for the first time. Most notably of those is funny enough the most trivial one – the 1 x 1 round brick. It still surprises me that this simple, versatile element still does not exist in every LEGO color out there (Light Aqua, anyone?). It should be a no-brainer to produce at least some test batches and sprinkle them in in sets, be it just as structural elements in invisible positions.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), Parts

Another thing that LEGO seem to go a bit crazy about recently is their iridescent coatings introduced last year, so there’s a number of elements featuring this optical trickery here as well. From this crowd the Trans Dark Pink dome pieces stand out that indeed look like pink pearls. However, most people will likely be more drooling over the Satin Trans Black 2 x 2 window glass parts. So far those have only been found in the Mickey Mouse & Minnie Mouse Buildable Characters (43179) where they are used as film frames, quite successfully mimicking this shimmery color shift effect that actual chemical film indeed has when held at different angles against the light.

In addition to those items there is a number of others. Again the most important one will be the curved windows, a completely new mold for 2021. In the past these kinds of bay windows were occasionally emulated using old train window parts. This didn’t necessarily look bad, but was still often unsatisfying. So now that they are here at last it really becomes a question of “What took you so long, LEGO?” In the interest of making it easier to follow, here’s a short, incomplete list for you:

The above parts are further complemented by some more recolors in Magenta and Light Aqua, which are nice to have, but nowhere near as important or exciting. Would you really have been lost without a 10 x 6 plate in Magenta? I don’t think so, either. There would have been enough alternatives to piece things together or use a substitute in another color. Where things like those damned elongated 1 x 2 x 3 bricks and similar are included, I find myself wishing they’d just settle on the old way of doing things by stacking up conventional 1 x 2 x 1 bricks, anyway. I get that they are doing it for simplification (this is, after all, aimed at kids of a certain age), but this is one of those things where LEGO just doesn’t feel like LEGO to me.

The Figures

As mentioned further above, this set comes with five minidoll figures, which sadly enough qualifies as a rare event in the LEGO Friends world these days. That they are actually good to a level that even satisfies me is even rarer, so it’s definitely worth noting. Even if that weren’t the case, there is yet one more significant point about this: It’s the first time we ever actually get to see Andrea‘s family. That includes her younger sister Liz, her father (Or much older step brother?) Martin and her mother Donna.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), Figures

The latter is easily my favorite of the lot and reminds me of Michelle Obama or a young Oprah. Even without those references she simply looks nice in her Yellowish Green dress which against the darker skin really pops. The same applies to LizBright Light Yellow dress as well, of course. As already noted, Martin leaves a bit of room for interpretation, since he’s somewhat too young-looking and too perfect for a dad fitting Andrea‘s age. It’s not as bad a fail as Marcel in the Heartlake Organic Café (41444), but still noticeable. Perhaps they really need to sit down and develop different head shapes to better accommodate older males.

Stephanie also stopped by, though she isn’t really worth mentioning, being that her figure doesn’t offer anything fresh or new and she’s just wearing one of her usual “Sporty Spice” outfits.

Sticker Overload

Before we move on to the actual build, one more thing. This set is without a doubt the one with the most stickers I’ve ever come across in the Friends universe. That’s why I had to include this in my review. The number and size of these stickers is insane and only outdone by bigger true premium sets like the Harry Potter Diagon Alley (75978) or various recent LEGO Technic sets plastered with renditions of sponsor signage and cheat elements like printed-on headlights.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), Stickers

My point here specifically is that this is a set for kids and you can’t simplify the build with large panels on one hand while expecting them to apply large stickers correctly. This doesn’t compute in my tiny little brain even if I work up the understanding for the rationale behind this. Yes, stickers are cheaper and there’s a whole lot of other reasons, but when you have them to use to this extend, I feel something is wrong. In a funny way this in fact harks back to my point with the parts earlier on – LEGO should be about trying to build as many details as possible, not faking them.

On that note: I unfortunately ended up with the older versions of the few printed pieces in this set, so I have a “milk” brick that still has the cow, not the more neutral newer version that also appeases vegans and the same goes for the letter in the mailbox. No big deal, it just would have been nice to get the modernized examples.

The Pool

As usual, somehow LEGO can’t seem to go without those weird side builds that ultimately often are mostly useless and so this set has its own heart-shaped kids pool. Due to its super-simplified construction it’s neither here nor there, as they say, though. For a toddler basin it’s just not cute enough and for a deeper pool it at least would have had to have a second row of bricks to make it taller. This is, for all intents and purposes simply a forgettable non-effort on the designers’ part.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), Pool

The House

The main component is of course the house, which is actually quite a sizable villa as it’s indeed built on a full 32 studs wide and 16 studs deep array of plates. For Friends buildings, which usually tend to be a lot narrower and more shallow that’s really not bad, even more so since the space is used quite efficiently with lots of stuff being built onto the available surface area. Not exactly on the same level of Modular Buildings, but not bad, no matter what.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), House, Front Right View

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), House, Front Left View

The building is divided into three (or four if you want to be super exact) visually distinct segments spread across two floors with the big garage and the tower-like rounded window front dominating and to some degree making the middle section appear narrower and less prominent. The top floor is then further divided into two separate modules, each containing two rooms, that can easily be removed to provide easier access to the facilities on the ground floor for play and exploration.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), Modules, Front View  LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), Modules, Back View

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), House, Back Left View  LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), House, Back Right View

On the right hand-side of the building there is a small overhang with a balcony/ roof terrace on top and some space underneath, which in summer you would probably use to put up a table and some chairs for barbecue. Otherwise it is perhaps a bit underused in this set, as clearly they could have put some details in there like a swing hanging from the ceiling or at least a little bench. Might also have been a good idea to put some bicycles there or a lawnmower. as it is there’s only the vines to talk about, which have some blue grapes even similar to the Heartlake City Restaurant (41379).

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), Ground Floor, Front Right View

The garage likewise feels a bit empty and underutilized despite the musical instruments being stored there and a tiny washing machine/ dry tumbler having been placed at the rear end. Something is simply missing and including at least a small scooter or something like that might have enlivened the scenery.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), Ground Floor, Front View of open Garage  LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), Ground Floor, Back View of open Garage

The central doorway directly takes you into the kitchen area, which at least from my point of view is pretty unusual. Living areas tend to be structured differently here, with most people preferring to separate their functional rooms from the hallway. The kitchen also exposes the one big problem I have with this set as a whole to a T: The ugly, dark colors abound here with Dark Purple stool legs, Dark Turquoise table base and the surrounding Magenta from the walls and chairs’ backrests.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), Ground Floor, Front Left View

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), Ground Floor, Back Left View

On their own, each of the colors are okay when used in moderation, but I feel that for this model the designers went a bit nuts. Since they are very strong, dominant and contrast-y color, they are fighting for the spotlight and it makes the whole model unnecessarily noisy. This is then even further escalated once you add the Dark Blue for the roof into the mix. At least I have a mild psychological reaction to all of this and it feels kind of unfriendly, uninviting or even a bit depressing to me. At least one of the colors could easily have been eliminated (the Dark Purple, pretty obviously) and the others dialed down massively. There isn’t even a reason why the two arches used under the table would need to be in the teal color.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), Ground Floor, Back View of open Kitchen Area

The other thing about this is the simple question of “Where’s Andrea’s Yellow?”. Bar the bed covers, the pool’s edge and the hairbrush it is nowhere to be seen except for the flowers (and some of the stickers which I didn’t use). It would have made things a whole lot friendlier if it had been used e.g. on the Window blinds on the first floor instead of the Magenta or some of the decorative striping. Then they could have used the flower elements in nice Bright Light Pink without losing anything. Or perhaps even adding a tree or hedge? So many options!

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), Top Floor, Front Right View  LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), Top Floor, Back Right View

The rooms on the upper level feel a bit more balanced in terms of colors, though their use is kind of hampered by the large panel-based walls inbetween. I would have preferred if the living room was just as large an open space as the kitchen below it. The bathroom is acceptable, but perhaps not really necessary. The same could be said about the nursery/ sleeping room with the bunk bed. Both rooms feel rather lackluster compared to other, more richly detailed things. and yes, there’s of course the balcony/ terrace which is just as empty. It’s like they either didn’t have any more budget left to at least add a sun chair or they were really ignoring it.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), Top Floor, Front Left View  LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), Top Floor, Back Left View LEGO Friends, Andrea's Family House (41449), Top Floor, Back View of Bathroom


Concluding Thoughts

Despite the weaknesses I pointed out and my criticisms that is actually a pretty nice set. Light Aqua is one of my favorite LEGO colors, anyway, and this set delivers plenty of elements in this color fur future creative uses. The same can basically be said for the Dark Turquoise/ Dark Cyan elements as well, though to a slightly lesser extent. And well, then there’s the obvious point: The new curved window elements and the tinted dark glass inserts for the regular small windows alone could make this desirable if you’re into building houses. That is, of course, until LEGO lump them into every set in more colors and they cease to be something special.

The sticky point ultimately is, that some things feels like they stopped at the 90% mark and the model could have used some more refinement. The many empty areas are kind of baffling and could have easily been populated with some small details and no matter what, I still would have loved to see a more educated, more balanced use of color. Something simply feels off. And then there’s this sticker excess, too… Suffice it to see that this set could likely have been my personal “best ever LEGO Friends set”, but due to its shortcomings and quirks falls just shy of that. I would still recommend it, but with this experience in mind would do some things differently, were I to build it a second time.